Alien invaders, giant ants, a man so small that his cat tries to snack on him and a journey to a distant planet will be appearing at the Waupaca Area Public Library in February.
Dr. Jack Rhodes will present a series of classic 1950s sci-fi films at 1:30 p.m. Thursdays in February in the library’s lower level. Admission and refreshments are free.
“This is the fifth year that I have done a series of genre films at the library in February,” Rhodes said. “It was pointed out to me that I had done westerns, mysteries and comedies, but I had not done the science fiction genre. When I discussed it with the library staff, they were enthusiastic about it and believed it could draw an audience.”
Rhodes said it would be interesting in the 21st century to see how Hollywood viewed the future from the perspective of the 1950s.
He noted that post-war America was experiencing rapid technological advances that raised both hopes and fears about the future.
Due to copyright restrictions, the library cannot publish the names of the films in other media.
However, all of the movies in the series will be familiar to sci-fi aficionados.
On Feb. 7, the first movie in the series is from a magazine series written by Jack Finney.
Directed by Don Siegel, who is best known for his films with Clint Eastwood, this 1956 classic stars Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan and Carolyn Jones.
“When I’ve talked to people around town about this series, most of them have seen this film or its 1978 remake,” Rhodes said. “They tend to say that the movie was so memorable because it really frightened them.”
Rhodes said the film is not a conventional 1950s sci-fi horror movie, because it does not rely on giant monsters.
The suspense comes from the sense of paranoia, that the people one is closest to may be transformed into something unfeeling, without compassion, alien.
On Feb. 14, the threat is giant ants rather than alien invaders.
“I wanted to illustrate a theme of a great many of the science fiction films of the 1950s,” Rhodes said.
He noted that colossal insects, spiders, reptiles and even giant people were common perils in sci-fi films in the 1950s.
Usually, the cause of the monstrosity was explained by the radiation from atom bombs or the experiments of a mad scientist gone horribly wrong.
Inaccurate and facile scientific explanations were not the only flawed things about the genre.
“Perhaps, no genre ever produced so many bad movies as science fiction. When they are bad, they are very bad. Even a B western is tolerable, but some of these low budget sci-fi films can be real turkeys,” Rhodes said. “But, there are at least two dozen sci-fi films from that era that have lasted.”
The movie screening Feb. 14 is a classic in the leviathan bugs sub-genre.
Released in 1954, the film is directed by Gordon Douglas and stars Edmund Gwenn, James Whitmore and Joan Weldon.
James Arness, whose first appearance in a sci-fi film was as the creature in the original “The Thing” and who later spent 20 years as Marshal Matt Dillon, plays an FBI agent investigating mysterious deaths in the desert of New Mexico in this film.
“This film is excellent for its suspense,” Rhodes said. “There were no computer graphics, they had to build large models and went to great expense to give the premise verisimilitude.”
On Feb. 21, the sci-fi premise shifts from gigantic to tiny, and the focus moves from a threatened society to an individual’s psychological angst.
This 1957 movie is based on a novel by Richard Matheson, who co-wrote this screenplay, as well as wrote episodes for “Twilight Zone,” “The Outer Limits” and “Star Trek.”
His novel, “I Am Legend,” has been made into three different movie versions that starred, in chronological order, Vincent Price, Charlton Heston and Will Smith.
“George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron have all cited this movie as an influence on their own work,” Rhodes said. “Instead of special effects, they built enormous sets and props, such as an 18-foot pencil.”
The cast includes Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, Paul Langton and April Kent.
The film is directed by Jack Arnold, whose sci-fi films in the 1950s include “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “It Came from Outer Space” and “Tarantula.”
On Feb. 28, the final film of the sci-fi series will be the only one in color.
“The other three movies are sincere, smaller productions,” Rhodes said. “This MGM production set the gold standard by being shot in widescreen and in Technicolor. It is based on Shakespeare’s play, ‘The Tempest.'”
At 106 minutes, it is the longest of the four films in the series.
It also has, for its time, the most recognizable names in the cast.
This 1956 film stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen and Warren Stevens.
It is directed by Fred M. Wilcox.
Made one year before the Russians launched Sputnik, this film represents an example of how space exploration was imagined throughout the 20th century.
As far back as the silent film era, European directors such as George Meliès in his 1902 “Voyage to the Moon” and Fritz Lang in “Woman in the Moon” in 1928, projected their visions of space travel onto the silver screen.
“Conquest of Space,” “Rocketship X-M” and “Destination Moon” are among the many movies in the 1950s that continued this sci-fi tradition, while Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 epic, “2001: A Space Odyssey” – released one year before Apollo 11 landed on the moon – represents its zenith.